Article by Pragyamita Saha, The North-Eastern Chronicle

Visuals by: Abhiskar Banik

Ima Keithel or the mother’s market in Manipur is a symbol of women’s integrity, sovereignty and independence. It is managed by a union of all the vendors of the market. It maintains a custom of only allowing women who have been married at least once to set up stalls. The women vendors include those who are divorced or have been widowed in the insurgency in Manipur. The vendors are primarily aged 45–70 years. The union also runs a credit system for lending to women traders.

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Ima Keithel, also known as Ima Market or Nupi Keithel (women’s market) is the only market in the world run by women in Imphal, India. It is a commercial centre and a popular tourist attraction in the state of Manipur. 

In the past decade, the location was shifted within the city of Imphal over the years and is currently located in Khawairaband Bazaar. It was established in the 16th century and hosts around 5,000–6,000 women vendors who sell a variety of products. The market was established in the 16th century and hosts around 5000 to 6000 women vendors who sell a variety of products purchase vegetables fruits textiles toys fish spices and utensils. It is the largest all-women market in Asia.

Ima Keithel

History of Ima Keithel

Now if you start talking about its history, we have to turn the pages from the 16th century following the imposition of the labour system lallup-kaba in 1533 CE. Lallup-kaba was the forced labour system in Manipur which mostly required the male members of the community to work in distant lands and to serve in the army. In that period women had to support their household by cultivating fields or weaving textiles and selling products on improvised markets this lead to the formation of Ima Keithel.

In 1891, the British colonial administration well attempted to impose some economic and political reform in Manipur which had disputed the functioning of the market. The British also attempted to sell the assets and properties of Ima Keithel to owners and external buyers. After independence, the market regained its height as a commercial centre and hub for socio-political discussions.

Ima Keithel

The Ima Keithel is located in the Khawairamband Bazaar, a complex reconstructed on the site of Purana Bazaar in central Imphal. It is located west of Kangla Fort and on the Bir Tikendrajit Road in the Thangal Bazar locality. The complex consists of three large buildings.

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The market is split into two sections on either side of the road. Two buildings are located to the north of the main road and one to the south. In order to set up stalls in the main buildings of the market, annual municipal fees are levied. The fee of a 16 square feet stall was ₹140,000 per annum at the time of construction in 2010. There is a licensing system in place for vendors with stalls. The market houses around 5000-6000 women vendors on any given day.

This is the story of Ima market, “the world’s only all women-run market” is a must-visit while you are in Manipur.

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